“We have met the enemy, and he is us!” Pogo, the lead character in a long-gone newspaper comic strip, observed on Earth Day, 1971. He was commenting on the environmental state of the planet.
He could have been predicting the future of newspapers. They appear poised to follow Pogo into oblivion, and the journalism that once went with them?
“Woman trying to prove ‘vegans can do anything,’ among four dead on Mount Everest,” read the Monday evening headline on the most read story at washingtonpost.com, one of the nation’s top news sites.
High altitude cerebral edema (HACE as most climbers know it) following development of acute mountain sickness killed 34-year-old Maria Strydom in Camp 4 at about 26,000 feet on the world’s tallest mountain. Her death had nothing whatsoever to do with being a vegan.
There is not the remotest of known links between acute mountain sickness and a vegan diet. Altitude sickness is caused by the body having problems adjusting to thin air. It is random and can afflict almost anyone. Some people adapt to altitude better than others.
Some of those who adapt well are not the fittest of people. Some of them have bad diets. Some of them, particularly Russians back in the day, are or were smokers, though there are a lot less of those now even though smoking might be a good thing at altitude.
A 2011 study strangely enough found that smoking seems to offer some protection against acute mountain sickness. No one knows why.
“…Strydom, a lecturer at Monash Business School in Melbourne, Australia, had a message she wanted to share with the world: Veganism is not a handicap,” wrote the Post’s Travis M. Andrews.
“She and her husband, a veterinarian, both stuck closely to the rigorous diet required by vegans — no animal products whatsoever, which extends from scrambled eggs to most chocolate chip cookies — for which they experienced criticism. Some thought they didn’t receive enough iron and protein in their diet for such strenuous physical activity.
“‘It seems that people have this warped idea of vegans being malnourished and weak, Strydom said in an interview on (the) Monash blog. “By climbing the seven summits we want to prove that vegans can do anything and more.'”
The headline would suggest they proved the opposite, but that would be just as wrong as suggesting this little adventure was going to prove anything. Styrdom wasn’t conducting a science experiment.
She was conducting an attention-gathering experiment. Obviously, it worked. The Post bought into the idea being a vegan had something in some way to do with what happened on the mountain.
What is never explained. On the one hand, the Post story can be read to suggest that the vegan diet killed the poor, dead woman. On the other, it appears the author is trying to suggest Styrdom was on some noble pursuit to prove something of significance when she died.
It’s hard to decide which because the story doesn’t actually say anything other than that “for Maria Strydom and her husband, Robert Gropel, climbing Everest while adhering to a strict vegan diet was their ‘own personal Everest.'”
Wouldn’t climbing Everest be your own personal Everest whether you did it on a diet of vegetables or whale fat?
Fans of vegans diets are justified to be outraged at how this story is being reported. So too critics of vegan diets. And maybe most of all mountaineers and those who hate ignorance no matter what they eat.
Here is the reason Strydom died: She was in the “death zone.”
The death zone starts somewhere between 23,000 and 26,000 feet. The air at that altitude is so thin humans cannot adapt. Everyone in the death zone is in the process of dying. Most guides now put their clients on oxygen at 23,000 or 24,000 feet to slow the process of death.
Those who have clients in serious trouble with altitude sickness try to get them down the mountains as fast as possible. Dropping into thicker air with more oxygen offers the best chance of survival whether on Everest or Alaska’s Mount Denali, where acute mountain sickness is also a problem.
The Post never mentions the “death zone,” or whether Styrdom and her husband were guided (they were) or whether they had access to oxygen or whether efforts were made to get Sytrdom to a lower altitude. Let alone what any of this would have meant in terms of survival.
There was a time when journalists sought to at least try to explain the world, a time when they tried to outline the who, what, when and where of news events, and maybe take a shot at the why. It all seems so long ago now.
“On Everest, death is not necessarily a sign of failure so much as one of a particularly sad inevitability,” Andrews writes.
Good God. Really? Has Andrews ever been on a mountain?
Death is the absolute sign of failure on Everest as it is on every other mountain. If death was a “sad inevitability,” there would be no survivors to tell idiot journalists what had happened on the mountain. We’d never have learned Everest was successfully climbed the first time, let alone many times since.
If this is where journalism is going, we have met the enemy, and, well, he be us.